The Arab League Calls for Dialogue in Syria

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

The Arab League met last week in an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing instability in Syria and allegations of torture and human rights violations by the Syrian regime. Observers in the region, while stressing the importance of such measures, were skeptical of the ability of the Arab League to influence a seemingly poisoned Syrian political atmosphere. Some pointed to Muammar Gaddafi’s demise as a rationale for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to take action, particularly opening lines of dialogue with the opposition.

The Khaleej Times editorial reflected on the Arab League’s demand for a dialogue between the two parties: “Proposing a Syria base committee, the regional Arab states want to jointly work with Syria to end the violence, raging since the start of the protests. With the situation having deteriorated close to a civil war, the regional Arab states are rightfully concerned. Syria’s geopolitical dynamics renders the situation even more vulnerable to instability. President Assad has to understand where his country is headed under him. Apart from international condemnation, he has now placed Syria at the risk of regional isolation. Fortunately, the Arab league has given him an opportunity to redress the damage and start a dialogue for peace and reconciliation, instead of suspending Syria from its membership.”

Peninsula’s Khalid Al Sayed views the Arab League meeting as a positive step forward: “The Arab foreign ministers, in their emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday, gave Syrian President Bashar Al Assad 15 days to hold a national dialogue to resolve the political crisis in the country. They also agreed to form a committee, to be led by Qatar, to facilitate the meeting of the Syrian government and opposition leaders at the Arab League headquarters and monitor the situation….We repeat our call (in this column) to the international community, especially the United States and Europe, that they should not be intimidated by Assad’s threat and take stronger measures before it’s too late. The Arab League has already given Assad’s government and the opposition a chance to talk and work out a peaceful solution that hopefully will bring about reforms in the country.”

Others focused on the fact that, unlike in the past, the Arab countries were able to come together and present a united front in their views toward Syria. For example, Al Hayat’s Hassan Haidar welcomes the fact that “during the emergency meeting held by Arab foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Syria…the regime in Damascus was no longer able to cause a rift within the ranks of the Arab League as it has many times in the past….The fact of the matter is that Arab countries took a major step forward, one that could be followed by quick steps towards stripping the Syrian regime of legitimacy, when they placed this regime on an equal footing with the opposition that rose up more than eighteen months ago. They considered, in other words, that the ‘dialogue’ the regime claims to be engaged in with domestic opposition figures is not sincere, and does not depart from being a means to waste some time until it completes its attempt to put an end to the uprising by way of killing and incarceration.”

Despite the meeting’s successful outcome, some were quick to point out that it is unlikely the Syrian regime will pay much attention to the recommendations of the Arab League.  Ali Ibrahim, on Al Arabiya, compares Syrian maneuvers to “Bazaar tactics,” adding: “It was natural for Damascus to reject the decisions of the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo….The Arab League route was obstructed from the beginning and may only be able to record a moral stance [in support of] the Syrian people seeking freedom. The Syrian regime wants to sit down with the tame, internal opposition, whilst the wider Syrian opposition has gone beyond the stage of dialogue; after all it has endured in terms of terrorism and murder….The people have had enough; they have already granted the regime a lot of time, and received nothing in return but bullets!”

The rhetoric coming out Syria seems to confirm such suspicions. The state-run news agency SANA goes to great lengths to shore up support for the Assad regime by quoting regional commentators who have come to the defense of the Syrian government. Among these is the Director of Yafa Center for Studies and Researches in Cairo, Rifaat al-Sayyed Ahmad, who “[i]n an article…published in the Egyptian Ad-Dustour Newspaper on Monday…asserted that these countries don’t work for the freedom of the Syrian people but to disengage their ties with the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to serve the US interests….Al-Sayyed Ahmad described the meeting as ‘a conspiracy’ to besiege Hezbollah Party and Hamas movement and the Arab resistance to whom Syria has ensured the protection and support, saying that the Israeli-Western alliance and its traditional allies do not want this resistance, but a new Middle East devoid of it.”

However, as events in Libya demonstrate and as an Arab News editorial argues: “Bashar Assad has to wake up to the reality that change has come to the Middle East….It’s as though responding to the desperate calls for peace by the league and the international community, the Syrian regime is rubbing it in….However, whether it is Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen or his counterpart in Damascus, they have to wake up to the reality that change has come to the Middle East. The age of endless and absolute power is over. This is the message that should be sent out to Syria’s rulers. Instead of learning from the fate of Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi, Assad has unleashed a reign of terror on a people who have silently suffered the Bathist tyranny for half a century.”

Finally, there are other countries in the region that are trying to take advantage of the current instability in the Middle East. Among these, Turkey’s foreign policy elites have been touting their country’s development as a model for other countries currently undergoing transformational changes. In a recent article on the Turkish Today’s Zaman, Haluk Özdalga, Parliament deputy and a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, asserted: “The most, or perhaps sole, effective regional supporter of the Syrian people’s struggle for dignity and freedom is Turkey. Despite having carefully cultivated a close relationship with Damascus in recent years, in the face of the Syrian crisis Ankara did not hesitate to do the right thing, both in terms of values and realpolitik…. It is for this reason that the major instance of international cooperation to overcome the current Syrian crisis is that between Ankara and Washington. It is also for this reason that in the Middle East today, many political movements — whether self-defined as Islamic or not — are trying to rework their political programs in light of the experience of Turkey.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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